Cat Skin Diseases – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

skin problems in cats

This is the least common of the four types of allergy in cats. Contact dermatitis is a result of the cat coming into contact with a substance. The cat’s fur acts as a barrier, protecting it from allergy-producing compounds. There are two causes of contact dermatitis; allergic and irritant.

Symptoms include:

  • Non-seasonal itching, especially in areas where there isn’t much fur. Typical areas include the chin, ears, toes, underbelly, and anus.
  • Lesions of any type: redness, rash, papules (pimple-like), vesicles, and blisters
  • Skin redness or inflammation
  • Thickening of the skin

Treatment includes:

  • Identification and elimination of the substance causing contact dermatitis is the best solution.
  • Corticosteroids may be prescribed to control the itch.
  • Antibiotics may be necessary to treat secondary bacterial infections.

Feline acne:

Feline acne is a common problem seen in cats. It is found on the cat’s chin and lips. Often symptoms are so mild they go unnoticed. Acne can affect cats of any age, sex or breed.

Sebaceous glands secrete oils (known as sebum) which lubricate the skin, preventing dryness and irritation. The sebaceous glands are mostly found in dorsal, eyelids, chin, surface of the base of the tail, lips, scrotum, and prepuce. They are connected to the hair follicles.

Treatment for feline acne includes topical antiseborrheic medications such as OxyDex, topical antibiotics, topical glucocorticoids to reduce inflammation, omega fatty acids. Switching from plastic to ceramic or metal food and water dishes, which should be thoroughly cleaned at least once a day.

Flea allergy dermatitis:

Flea allergy dermatitis (flea bite hypersensitivity) is the most common skin allergy in cats. As the name suggests, it is caused by an allergic reaction to a flea bite.

Symptoms of FAD include frequent scratching and biting of the fur, especially on the back and the base of the tail, raised bumps (papules) or scabs on the skin, thinning fur in the affected area.

Treatment of FAD includes:

  • Eliminating fleas from your cat and environment, and preventing re-infestation of fleas.
  • Treating secondary skin infections caused by excessive biting and scratching of the skin. This may involve a course of antibiotics, medicated shampoo and or a topical medication.
  • Antihistamines or steroids may be prescribed by your veterinarian to control inflammation and reduce itching.
  • Hyposensitization (desensitization). This involves injecting minute amounts of flea antigen into the cat in the hope that it will re-programme the immune system so it’s not hypersensitive to flea antigen.

Food allergy:

This is caused by an allergic reaction to one or more ingredients in the cat’s food. The most common causes of food allergies are fish, beef, eggs, wheat and milk.  Cats can become allergic to foods they have eaten for a long period of time.

Symptoms include: nonseasonal itching, especially on the front half of the body and head, hair loss (due to excessive scratching), vomiting and or diarrhea, the ears may be swollen and or infected.

Treatment involves avoiding the food which caused the allergies is the best method of treatment. This may either be a homemade diet or a commercial one.

Miliary dermatitis:

miliary dermatitis in cats

Miliary dermatitis Miliary dermatitis(also known as miliary eczema, papula crusting dermatitis or scabby cat disease) isn’t a specific disease but a disease complex. It is characterised by a red and crusty rash around the head, neck, and back, often with intense itching. There are a number of causes including flea allergy dermatitis, drug hypersensitivity, allergies, bacterial infections, mites, ringworm, immune-mediated disease, poor diet, a hormonal disorder.

Symptoms include red, crusty bumps, especially around the head, neck and back, itching, hair loss, scratching.

Treatment of feline miliary dermatitis depends on the cause of the problem.

  • If it is fleas, then removal of the fleas from the cat and environment should cure the problem. Strict flea control will need to be performed routinely to ensure miliary dermatitis doesn’t recur.
  • The same goes for mites, mange or fungal or yeast infections. Treat the cause and miliary dermatitis should go away.
  • If intestinal parasites are found to be the cause, treatment with the appropriate medication to eliminate them.
  • A hypoallergenic diet may be tried if parasites, yeast infections, fungal infections etc., are ruled out.
  • Antibiotics for secondary skin infections, if required.
  • Shampoos may be recommended to relieve itching and inflammation.
  • Other possible treatment options include fatty acids, antihistamines, and corticosteroids.

Overgrooming (psychogenic alopecia):

Over-grooming is a stress-related disorder and can be classified as obsessive compulsive behaviour. This behaviour may take the form of excessive licking at the fur or pulling out tufts of fur. The most commonly affected areas are the inside of the thighs, and nearby abdomen and groin.

Overgrooming is treated by:

  • Finding the cause of the stress and eliminating where possible. This may not always be possible, as has been stated above, the behaviour may have started in reaction to a stress, however, it has become compulsive behaviour now, even though the reason for the original stress may have been resolved.
  • Keep your cat’s day as routine as possible. Make sure you feed, play, exercise your cat at the same time daily. Cats like routine.
  • Provide your cat with a rich and stimulating environment. If you are out for long periods of time you could consider a cat video or a fish tank for your cat’s viewing pleasure. When you are home, set aside a play date with your cat every day. Drug therapy: If it isn’t possible to bring the cat’s behaviour under control by changing the stress and environment then it may be necessary to try medications such as anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications.  The goal is usually to give this medication until the behaviour decreases, and then gradually taper off the medication.


Ringworm is the most common fungal skin infection seen in cats. Contrary to the name, ringworm is caused by a microscopic group of parasitic fungal organisms known as dermatophytes (which means “plants that live on the skin”).

The most recognised sign your cat is infected with ringworm is circular patches of hair loss, especially around the head and limbs (although it can occur in other parts of the body also). Other signs are grey, patchy areas of baldness, with or without redness and itching, seborrhea sicca (a type of dandruff), dry/flaky skin, onychomycosis (infection of the claw and claw bed)

Ringworm on cat Ringworm on cat

Once your cat has been diagnosed with ringworm you will have to treat both the cat and the environment. If you live in a multiple cat household, all cats in your home will need to be treated.

Some treatment options include; shampoos and dips (usually lime sulfur) and Griseofulvin (Fulvicin®). This is the most commonly used anti-fungal drug and the only anti-fungal drug licensed for use in the cat. Griseofulvin inhibits fungal cell wall division by altering the structure and function of the microtubules. This allows the cat’s immune system to gain control and fight off the infection. There is also a ringworm vaccine available in some countries, made by Fort Dodge.

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